Hospitality training: challenges and opportunities

by Brett Henebery26 Jul 2017
It’s no secret that a hotel’s top priority is making its guests feel comfortable and welcome. After all, their business model is built upon the expectation that they will return, or at least recommend the hotel to their friends and family.

So what kind of training can give a hotel the edge in what is a markedly competitive market?
To find out, L&D Professional spoke to David Topolewski, CEO of Qooco – a company that provides hospitality skills training.

Topolewski says that while today’s hotels serve guests from all over the world, language learning is often an afterthought, or hotels simply hire employees who speak their guest language (at greater expense).

“Training curriculums are set in stone, and are hard to change and adapt, despite changing guest demographics,” he explained.

“While larger hotel chains implement a formal training process, for smaller properties formal employee training is often a luxury that they believe cannot afford. However, not training staff is short-sighted and more costly”.

Topolewski pointed out that there are several key challenges for hospitality training moving forward further into the 21st century.

“In markets such as Asia, hotels are relatively new, and possess all the new shiny facilities, bells and whistles that you would expect, meaning that hotels need to compete on service more and more if they are to be successful,” he said.

“However, the hospitality industry has traditionally suffered from high turnover, which makes the provision of consistently good service difficult.”

Last year, research found that those working in the hospitality industry should focus on training workers to be warm and friendly.

The study, by Penn State researchers, showed that employees perceived to be warmer gained more positive ratings for a hotel.

Topolewski said that while automation can provide some relief (think robot butlers), there will always be a need for good face-to-face interaction with guests in their language, with warmth and emotion.

He added that as countries become more developed and citizens travel more, the make-up of the traditional hotel guest will change, as we have seen recently with the rise of the Chinese traveller.

“Training will need to reflect this, and this is why a reliance on traditional classroom-based learning is inadequate, with modern employees preferring bite-sized information to learn with, according to reports,” he said.

“Modern guests often value local knowledge, yet hotel staff are not provided with regular training sessions and updates on the latest bars, clubs, restaurants and cultural happenings in their city.”

Topolewski said guests from far-away countries will have different linguistic and cultural needs, and the speed at which this happens may leave many hotels with inadequately trained staff.

“It is this need for adaption and flexibility that will provide the biggest challenge, one that many may be left unprepared for,” he said.

Luckily, modern technology has developed to such an extent that it can take over many training programs.

Virtual Reality (VR) has already been used by militaries around the world to provide realistic training for soldiers, while a hotel environment is in no way comparable to the battlefield, employees can be trained in teamwork and leadership in virtual hotel environments in a highly realistic way, before being exposed to real guests.

“Not only can they learn how to handle the stresses of a busy Front Office, for example, but the training package can include cultural and language elements that reflect the guest make-up of that particular hotel,” Topolewski explained.

“Mobile learning is a technology that is available today, and is able to replace the traditional classroom, teaching employees language skills, vocational training and even upselling.”

Topolewski said that all modern employees today will have a smartphone, and with just ten minutes of learning a day (this can be done on the bus on the way to work, or during their lunch break) they can significantly improve their language abilities – be that English or Mandarin, or upselling skills.

“Importantly, results and progress can be tracked in real-time, allowing training managers to identify stronger learners, and assist those who are struggling,” he said.

“This is a night-and-day difference with traditional training approaches, which have little to no data on staff performance.”

Furthermore, Topolewski pointed out that technology such as VR and mobile learning are scalable and flexible.

“Curriculums can be tweaked and amended to reflect the needs of the hotel, and the same standard of teaching can apply for 50 hotels, or one hotel, with no drop in quality,” he said.

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